Posts Tagged ‘usa’

Beer Review: Samuel Adams Boston Lager

12 November, 2009

AMERICANS are brilliant. They leave some of the best comments on this blog. And they keep mentioning a beer that they like called ‘Samuel Adams’. At long last, that beer has started turning up in British shops. It’s great that they finally sorted out distribution in this country. But it leaves me with a problem. If I ‘review’ it and like it, my Sam Adams loving friends will be delighted. If I try it and hate it, then my polite and informative American readers will be somewhat irked. Still, it’ll be fun to see what happens. So, for an expensive £1.19 pence, on a very fine line, here is a bottle of Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager bottle

As bottle’s go, it’s brown and fairly plain. For some reason, the stuff you normally read on the back-label is up on the neck label where you wouldn’t normally think to look for it.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager front of neck label

For added quirkiness, they split paragraph with the first half on the left and second half on the right of the “Samuel Adams” logo. But quirkiness is good. I like that.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager left of neck label

It’s good to read the sort of description that you normally find on an ale. About the care, attention to detail and recipe that goes back generations.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager right of neck label

Rotating it around to read the rest, and it keeps getting better. We get the names of hops. And interesting, those aren’t names I remember reading on anything I’ve tried so far. So extra marks for distinctive ingredients.

Then they take the risk. “No other American lager matches this rich robust and complex taste”, finishing with a pretend signature from Jim Koch. The cynic in me says that that means it’s only average because of the dire state of American brewing. The optimist says that there’s plenty I’ve not tried yet, and that Samuel Adams Boston Lager must be something special. Either way. It’s a brave statement.

Down on the front-label, and there’s a big, traditional looking roundel.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager front label

…a label that gives me déjà vu. I’ve seen it before somewhere…

Family Guy Pawucket Patriot Ale

I think it looks good. And so does the Samuel Adams one.

“The Boston Beer Company”, “Product of USA” and “America’s World-Class Beer” all add to the sense that this should be good, and not mass-produced fizz.

Oddly, the small print is tucked into two flappy bits either ride of the roundel. One the left is the address of The Boston Beer Company in Boston, Massachusetts. On the other side is some recycling information for other countries and the all important vital statistics. This is an unusual 355ml bottle. Until you realise that it was designed with fluid ounces in mind, which case one of the numerous online converters brings it to 12 oz. Does that sound normal to you? The alcoholic volume is 4.8% which is unremarkable for a lager. Neither strong nor weak.

Is there a back label? Yes there is. Is it worth reading? Not really.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager back label

It is literally a list of importers. Here in Britain, the rather excellent Shepherd Neame of Kent arranged this bottle’s arrival on the shop shelves.

So, what does Samuel Adams Boston Lager taste like? Will I like it as much as our friends over the pond do? For the sake of the comments at the end of this post, I sure hope so.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager poured into a glass

The fun and quirky touches keep coming. On the underside of the bottle-top, yes, the side that’s inside the bottle, is a proudly displayed “#25 Brussels Gold 2000 International Award Winner”. Well done chaps.

In the glass, it froths up, but the head collapses fairly sharpish into a lumpy layer. Must say, I was surprised at how dark it is. It’s a kind of copper-y amber colour with an almost cream head. It looks well carbonated, but not too fizzy.

What does Samuel Adams Boston Lager smell of? First reaction was “it smells good for a lager”. Almost every pilsner style lager beer I’ve sniffed has some variation on the malted barley formula. Very few stretch that into something distinctive, but Samuel Adams Boston Lager seems to have managed it. Unbelievable, I think it smells of hoppy spiciness and biscuit malt. Normally, you’d only read those words in a review of English ale.

What does Samuel Adams Boston Lager taste like? The first sip is a good one. A very good one in fact. Much like the smell, it’s almost like drinking ale. Some people won’t like that, but I do.

To elaborate a bit, because it is an ale, it still can’t manage much in the flavour department. All I can pick up there is a hint of savoury malty. It’s the aftertaste where Samuel Adams Boston Lager comes to life and where it makes a bold stride away from the crowd. The finish is tingly, tangy, salty, hoppy and spicy and a little bit malty. All this makes it bitter overall, but balanced and with a long and quite smooth finish.

With most of the bottle now gone, what am I enjoying about Samuel Adams Boston Lager? Thankfully, quite a lot. I love how different it is to almost every lager I’ve tried. That scores it serious points for distinctiveness. I love how it’s a lager trying to be an ale. I like the hoppy taste that you normally have to buy an expensive bottle of ale for. I like how it looks and smells different. I like how not many people this side of the pond know about it yet. And I like what a funny size it is, sitting uncomfortably between smaller and bigger Euro bottles on the shop shelf.

What aren’t I like about Samuel Adams Boston Lager? Fortunately for the comments section of the post, not that much. First, I’m burping more than usual, so it’s a gassy drink. It is quite bitter and strong tasting, so I won’t be getting any girls to try it any time soon. Incidentally, if you are a girl who likes Samuel Adams Boston Lager, leave your thoughts in the comments. It’s also unlikely to appeal to the committed lager drinker, unless you’re using this as a stepping stone to real ale. That puts it in an awkward spot between what you think of as lagers and ales. It’s not as crisp and refreshing as other good lagers and not as complex and flavourful as ale. It’s also rather expensive.

How can I sum up Samuel Adams Boston Lager? It is that rare thing. A lager that truly is different. One of those few that thinks it’s an ale. It is better than any of the mass-produced American lagers I’ve tried by miles. I’m going to buy it again.

Rating: 4.15

Have you tried Samuel Adams Boston Lager what did you think of it? Can you correct any of the mistakes that you’ve spotted in my ‘review’? Do please leave your opinions, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments section.

Beer Review: Michelob Lager

25 June, 2008

A few days ago, I wrote about the seismic shifts in the brewing industry when European mega-brewer InBev made an offer for American brewing giant, and home of Budweiser, Anheuser-Busch. I wanted to mark the occasion by trying an American beer from the Anheuser-Busch stables, but was deterred by Budweiser being a cheap lager. So I cheated and had an unrelated and equally cheap Miller Beer instead.

Since then, London taxis have continued advertising a new, and different looking beer from Anheuser-Busch. So, after much procrastination, I relented and picked up a bottle of Michelob Lager.

Michaelob Lager bottle

And it’s not a bad looking bottle. All the black and gold offers a premium look. And a nice change compared to the shouty look of other American beers. The dark coloured bottle even has a Coca-Cola-esque middle. And the name “Michelob” is subtly embossed upon the surface. All unusually classy.

The bottle top isn’t something I normally dwell on. But this one deserves mention because it’s a screw top. The quality of the bottle just went down a notch for me. But what do you think? Leave your opinion at the end of the post.

With no front or back labels cluttering up this stylish bottle, what we do have is a very large neck label. Something I think makes the bottle look like it’s wearing a spangly dinner-jacket.

Michelob Lager front label

I like the font of this neck label. And that’s because it has all the words the convinced me that it would be worth trying. Even though it’s a lager that comes from somewhere with a poor reputation for mass-produced beer. Starting with the gold coloured top, it describes itself as “a classic all-malt lager brewed with noble European aroma hop varieties”. I’m salivating already. Malt is good. European hops can be good. As for this being a lager, well, I’m staying open minded about this one.

The “Michelob” brand is new here in Britain. And I’d be interested in learning what reputation is has across the pond. To me, the discreet little flag, and typeface sum up elegance. They also remind me of after dinner mints.

Even after vowing not to bother with lager again, there are some things that get me interested. And the word “Imported” does just that in this instance. The Miller Beer turned out to have been brewed “under license” over here. That’s no good. I want to review real American beer. And beers genuinely from other countries for that matter. So this one fits the bill nicely.

Just like the cap, the best before dates aren’t something I normally mention. But this time I will.

Michelob Lager left of neck label

Some countries require food and drink to have a best before date. Others require the date that the food or drink was produced on. Because this is the export version, it sensibly has both. It has a “Born On Date” and a “Best Before Date”. Adding a belt to those braces are the words “Freshest Taste within 110 Days”. This isn’t something I’ve seen on many other beers. Not those from Europe, Africa or Asia at least.

Over on the other side of the neck label is all of the small-print.

Michelob Lager right of neck label

After seeing so many faux foreign beer that turn out to be brewed in the UK, the St. Louis address for Anheuser-Busch, Inc., is a welcome sight. This really is from the USA and imported to me, via Richmond in Surrey.

This bottle is the usual volume of 355 millilitres. But the alcoholic volume is a rather typical 5%. It contains, surprise surprise, barley malt. And there is a UK postal address for comments. Unusual not to see an email address or consumer helpline though.

With that out of the way, its time to answer the big questions of our time. Namely, are there exceptions to the rule of big-name American beers generally being terrible? And does Michelob Lager taste as good as it looks?

Michelob Lager poured into a glass

Be careful if you decide to pour it. The head fizzes up almost uncontrollably, so keep an eye on your enthusiasm. It does end up as a good, thick layer after a few moments though. The other thing you’ll notice, if you went for the half-pint glass, is that it wasn’t big enough. Frustratingly, 355 millilitres is somewhere between half a pint and full-pint.

The colour is typical for a lager. It’s a pale yellow. It’s also filled with bubbles. Oh dear.

The label talked about “European aroma hop varieties”. And I’m delighted to report that the smell is not bad. Even compared to European lagers, it smells good. It has a much more rounded smell of barley and hops than many others. Not quite up to the levels of a proper ale, but not bad.

The first gulps were hindered somewhat by the thick layer of foam. First impressions aren’t too bad. I liked that it was smooth. I liked the initially light taste of lager. I was starting to think that it wasn’t a bad example of a lager.

Then the aftertaste hit me, and everything changed. The initial taste of a light blend of malted barley and hops vanishes. To be replaced by an intense, sour and bitter aftertaste. It feels like it’s clinging on to every surface of your tongue. And it is ghastly. You might expect this taste if it were a 9% super-strength lager, but for a premium, imported lager, it cannot be excused.

I truly wanted to enjoy Michelob Lager. My expectations were modest, and achievable. It looks the part. And smells the part of a quality, premium lager. But that taste. It is one of the worst and most unpalatable I’ve tasted.

How can I sum it up? This is a beer for people who have spent their lives drinking Budweiser, and want to imagine that they’re experiencing a European quality beer. When in fact, all this is doing, is perpetuating the reputation that big-name American brewers produce urine and get away with it.

Rating: 1

Have you tried Michelob Lager? What did you think? What reputation does it have elsewhere in the world?
Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, ideas and suggestions here please. I’m looking forward to hearing what you think.

Beer Review: Miller Beer

13 June, 2008

GEARS of the brewing industry grinded yesterday, when Belgian brewing giant InBev (home to countless European beer brands) offered to buy American brewing giant Anheuser-Busch (home to Budweiser) for $46.3 billion US Dollars. This, Forbes postulated, was bad news for that other international brewing giant, SABMiller, because no one wanted to buy it. This raised an important question for me. Namely, how good are their respective beers?

InBev have so far provided the highs of Hoegaarden, intriguing Gold Label Barley Wine and lows of that alcoholics choice, Tennent’s Super Strong Lager. And that’s just a microscopic portion of the brands they own. The only brew from the SABMiller stables that I’ve tried so far was the very average Castle Lager from Africa. I’ve not even tried anything bearing the Anheuser-Busch name in the small-print. So the time was right to fill in some gaps.

Whilst visiting my local purveyor of alcohol, I was disappointed to note that Budweiser is a lager. And therefore no better than average from the word go. Furthermore, the Czech Budweiser, Budwar is also a lager. If there is any demand out there for me to give them a try, I will, but most lagers are a waste of time.

I needed to find a beer. And, in the nick of time, one turned up. Here is a can of Miller Beer. An American beer, and part of the SABMiller family.

Miller Beer cab

First impressions are that is looks cool. The silver background is fetching, and makes everything printed on it readable. The “Miller” logo goes for the über-American look. There’s a large bald-headed eagle clutching a bunch of barley and hops. There are stars around the circular border. And the typeface looks as though it belongs on the jerseys of a baseball team. It does have a date on it though. 1855 isn’t at all bad in terms of heritage.

Under the big logo, the origins are proudly displayed for all to see. “Miller Brewing Company Milwaukee U.S.A.” Maybe my American readers can leave a comment saying if being from Milwaukee is something to be proud of. Or not.

At the bottom of the ‘front’ of the can is a big blue band. And in it, we can clearly see that this beer has an alcoholic volume of 4.2%. Not very strong. Barely moderately strong. But above weak. And there’s the ubiquitous advice to “serve chilled”. Don’t worry, I’ll be very relaxed when serving.

The small print is all tucked into a single column. And it begins with some bad news. This can wasn’t imported from Milwaukee. Instead, it was brewed “under license” by Scottish & Newcastle in Edinburgh. There’s a UK customer careline. A S&N email address at miller@scottish-newcastle.co.uk. And their Edinburgh postal address. It’s not the S&N are bad. It’s that I’d love to have more American beers over here that aren’t simply pretending to be so.

Miller Beer side of can

The can size is the homogenous 500 millilitres. Which, at 4.2% volume has 2.1 of your UK units of alcohol. Besides a summary of recommended maximums and the news that this contains barley and wheat is something unexpected. If not often that you find a full breakdown of nutritional information. But this has it. Energy, protein, carbohydrate and fat content are all listed. So if you’re on a calorie controlled diet, or looking for a product to write about for your biology class, this one is for you.

With nothing else to write about, it’s time to answer that all-important questions. Is Miller Beer any good?

Miller Beer poured into a glass

Be careful with the pouring. It has a tendency to froth up. My pint glass was able to cope, but you wouldn’t want a can that had dropped several times. After a couple of minutes the head died down to a thin and patchy layer, so it was time to get a closer look.

The colour is a decent shade of amber. Not to cheap looking and not artificially bright. There’s not much of a smell though. An indistinctive smell of beer ingredients is there. You just need to sniff extra hard.

A few gulps down, and first impressions are okay. The taste is very mildly bitter and sour, with hint of barley, wheat and hops. But not much.

About half-way through now, and there are a few things I like about Miller Beer. It’s very light. It’s very easy to drink as there’s little for the taste-buds to dislike. And it’s refreshing.

But all of those things can’t cover up some gaping holes. For starters, where is the flavour? It is almost tasteless. I’ve had bottled water with more flavour. Then, the taste and flavour it has, is cheap and nasty. Good beers and ales make you feel as though you’re drinking a carefully chosen blend of natural ingredients. This doesn’t. It could easily have something to do with coming out of a can instead of a bottle or keg at the pub. But it’s hard to escape the economy quality and artificial taste it leaves in your mouth.

To sum up, Miller Beer is tragically disappointing. I really wanted to like this one. Or to at least find it to be a quality if indistinctive beer. But it roundly fails to reach even average status. This is bland and low-quality. I’d rather have a lager.

Rating: 1.7

Have you tried Miller Beer?
What reputation does it have in the States? What did you think of it?
Leave your opinions, corrections, thoughts, suggestions and recommendations here please.

Beer Review: Sierra Nevada 2007 Summerfest Bottom Fermented Beer Lager

26 March, 2008

WHAT is this? Another out of season Sierra Nevada bottle. And this one is last summer’s Summerfest seasonal. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you have a look at yesterday’s review of Sierra Nevada‘s winter themed 2007 Celebration Ale. That one was good, but didn’t quite reach its potential. Is Sierra Nevada capable of greatness with it’s Summerfest? Let’s find out.
Sierra Nevada 2007 Summerfest bottle

Much the same bottle and label formula has been stuck to with this, as with the Celebration Ale. Again, it’s that odd 350 millilitre bottle size. And they shun the usual front and rear label combination for a front label and a neck label.
Sierra Nevada Summerfest 2007 nack label
Sierra Nevada 2007 Summerfest Bottom Fermented Beer Lager front label

As you might expect, this one is a lot less Christmassy. Gone are the snow covered wood cabins with red and green surrounds. In are yellow colours and images of sunny… well; Sierra Nevada presumably. If you have a better idea that I, of where that front label scene is set, comment below please.

Again, the main front label keeps things simple. It tells us that this beer comes from Chico, California in the USA. That it was imported to the UK by Vertical Drinks Ltd. That it contains barley. But. The prominent alcohol volume of Celebration Ale has been relegated to small text on the left-hand-side. A mystery since 5.0% is not a number to be that ashamed of. True, it’s not strong. But it’s not too weak either.

It’s the neck label that tells us most. In between the marketing speak, there are some facts. And those facts tell us that this is a bottom fermented drink. That it involved cold tank aging. Whatever that it. And is, in fact. A lager. Quite an important fact, I would have said. And one worth mentioning, in big type on the main front label. People who want a lager look for drinks that clearly say “lager” on them. And people, like me, who don’t, look for words like “beer” or “ale”. Come on Sierra Nevada. Don’t write “beer” in large type and “lager” in the small description.

With my expectations dampened, I cling onto the hope, that opening the bottle will be a pleasant surprise. Time to find out.

A small detail I noticed just before opening were the different things written on the bottle tops. Normally, I wouldn’t bother mentioning a detail as boring as bottle tops. Especially as more breweries use the same design across their range. But Sierra Nevada don’t. For their Celebration Ale, they use “Fresh Seal Cap” and “Use Bottle Opener”. But for Summerfest, it is “Pry Off”. These are the only tops I’ve seen that actually give instructions about what the consumer has to do with them. And funnier that on this bottle, the instructions read more like an insult.
Sierra Nevada bottle top comparison

After over-coming my laughter, the lager finally made it into the glass. And what can I say. It looks like lager. It’s light-gold in colour. It has bubbles rising quickly to the surface. And it has a head. Actually that detail is important. It means that this one is at the premium end of the scale.
Sierra Nevada 2007 Summerfest Bottom Fermented Beer Lager in a glass

As for smell. Well, it is lager. There’s nothing to mention. It smells faintly of barley.

A few gulps in, and I’m delighted to report that it isn’t as bad as I expected it to be. The first thing I noticed was how refreshing it is. A quality you might want at summer. It’s not too bitter. And although there is that aftertaste that I loath so much, it’s not as strong. And doesn’t linger as badly as those of cheaper lager.

Further in, and this is very easy to drink indeed. It is very nearly as easy to drink as water. I’m growing to quite enjoy Summerfest. Even if it is just a lager. It’s not as gassy as I feared, either.

To sum up, then. 2007 Summerfest is refreshing and drinkable. And the bad bits of being a lager have been hidden to some extent. Just as they promise, this is a good drink for the summer. However, I’m reviewing this on a dismal March day in London. Character and full-bodied flavours are never going to feature in a lager. And you have so many alternative lagers to choose from. If you simply want to get hammered, there’s lot of lager options. Or if you want a classier option from an independent brewery, they exist to. For example, Harviestoun Schiehallion.

My point is then, 2007 Summerfest is good. But is it different enough to stand out on already crowded shelves? I’m not so sure. And for that, it scores well, but I’m absolutely certain that Sierra Nevada are capable of delivering much more. Let’s hope we see more from this west-coast American brewer on our supermarket shelves soon.

Rating: 3.35

Have you tried 2007 Summerfest? Or any other Sierra Nevada bottles?
If so, leave your experiences, comments and insults below please.

Beer Review: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

25 March, 2008

A first for my Big Log today. An American ale. My local Tesco have bought in a small batch of Sierra Nevada bottles. And this is one of them: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale.
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale bottle

One look at the festive logo tells you that something is ever so slightly amiss. And the shoulder label explains what that is.
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale shoulder label
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale front label

It seems that Tesco got this small batch of bottles in late. You see, this 2007 Celebration Ale was produced to celebrate the winter from which we are now emerging. In other words, the winter that’s nearly over. Fortunately, it’s still cold enough outside to feel like winter, so I’m going into my first American ale with an open mind.

Have I purchased a bottle of Celebration Ale that’s missing the rear label? Or do Sierra Nevada don’t bother with rear labels? Answers in the comments section at the end of this post please.

As it is, we’ve got to make do with the front label. One of the few pieces of information on it, tells us that this bottle is 350 millilitres. What sort of value is that? This is the first time I’ve seen that amount. Maybe it’s something common to American beers. If anyone out there knows the reason behind this, again, please leave a message at the end of this post. I’m dying to know why the unusual number.

Something prominent and appealing is the alcohol volume. Which in this case, is 6.8%. Despite its funny size, this could well turn out to be an outstanding little drink.

The brewery is also worth a mention as this is my first taste of Sierra Nevada. This one was brewed and bottled by the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. of Chico, California of the USA. I didn’t even know Chico was a real place. It looks like I’m learning new things all the time from this diminutive little bottle. Finally, it was imported to the UK by Vertical Drinks Ltd. In case anyone out there is interested in that sort of face.

Unsure how much 350 millilitres actually was, I chose a half-pint glass. That was a mistake. If in doubt, go for the bigger glass. The drink however, poured delightfully. The head went in creamily and controllably. More so than many other premium beers and ales. And the colour is a rich, deep, dark gold.
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale in a glass

After so many lagers, it is fantastic to smell an ale again. And this one is a treat. It smells of fruit and flowers. But in a light way that is slightly different to the English fruity and flowery ales that I’ve reviewed on this blog. No lets see if that fruitiness and floweriness carries over to the taste.

The first taste that hits you is bitter. And the lingering aftertaste is sour. Quite a surprise as I was expecting something light and fruity. A few more gulps in though, and you do start to notice that this is more than a bitter or pale ale. There are some hints of the fruits that you noticed in the smell. Although they’re not as much in evidence as the smell leads you to believe.

Maybe because of the rough ride home from the supermarket, I found Celebration Ale a little on the gassy side. But not too much so. It was also very easy to drink. Yes it had that aftertaste that I disliked. But much of the taste, flavour and character was inoffensive. You could go as far as to say that it is playing it too safe on that front and lacking the full-on character and flavour of other decent beers and ales.

What to make of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale then? I went into this genuinely wanting to be surprised and impressed. And the smell did just that. But the taste simply hasn’t delivered. It’s simply too plain and lacking true character. But it is still a drinkable, strong, west-coast ale. And for that, it claws back marks.

Rating: 3.2

That quality is there, but make 2008 a real celebration for us, won’t you Sierra Nevada?

Have you tried Celebration Ale or any others from the Sierra Nevada brewery?
Then leave the world your comments, thoughts and insults below please.


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